The Treatment Cascade in Children With Unsuppressed Viral Load—A Reality Check in Rural Lesotho, Southern Africa

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As per the guidelines of the World Health Organization, HIV-infected children who do not achieve viral suppression while under antiretroviral therapy (ART) receive enhanced adherence counseling (EAC) with follow-up viral load (VL). A persisting unsuppressed VL after EAC triggers switch to a second-line regimen. We describe the care cascade of children with unsuppressed VL while taking ART.


Children, aged <16 years, on first-line ART for ≥6 months with unsuppressed VL (≥80 copies/mL) at first measurement were enrolled. As per guidelines, children/caregivers received EAC and a follow-up VL after 3 months, whereas those with persisting viremia despite good adherence were eligible for switching to second-line. Eighteen months after the first unsuppressed VL, outcomes were assessed.


Of 191 children receiving a first-time VL in May/June 2014, 53 (28%) had unsuppressed viremia. The care cascade of these 53 children was as follows: 49 (92%) received EAC and a follow-up VL in October 2014 (1 died, 3 lost to follow-up). 36/49 (73%) stayed unsuppressed, but only 24 were switched to second-line. At 18-months follow-up, 10 (19%) were retained in care with suppressed VL, 26 were retained with ongoing viremia (49%), 2 (4%) had died, and 15 (28%) had no VL documentation.


Only 1 of 5 children with unsuppressed initial VL under ART was retained in care and virally suppressed at 18 months of follow-up. ART programs must increase the focus onto the extremely vulnerable care cascade in children with unsuppressed VL.

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